Uganda: U.S. Demands Audit of Election Result

A polling assistant verifies a voter’s details at Police Post Polling Station in Rubaga Division, Kampala, during the January 14 election (file photo).
25 February 2021

The United States government has called for "independent, credible, impartial and thorough" investigations into alleged irregularities in Uganda's presidential elections.

Washington also wants members of state security services probed for alleged abuses against Opposition candidates and civil society.

Mr Ned Price, the US Department of State spokesman, said on Tuesday that Uganda's January 14 elections were "marred by election irregularities and abuses by government's security services". He did not provide specifics or evidence to substantiate the alleged anomalies.

However, Ugandan officials, including President Museveni have admitted that security forces killed at least 54 civilians in November 2020 while subduing protests sparked by the arrest of then president candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.

The government is investigating the killings, according to the President, who provided no timeline of the inquiries and whether the findings will be made public.

He has separately described most victims as "rioters" and "terrorists" while promising that the government will compensate those shot without basis.

At the Tuesday press conference at the US Department of State headquarters in Washington DC, Mr Price said: "We strongly urge [for] independent, credible, impartial and thorough investigations into these incidents. We will consider a range of targeted options to hold accountable those members of the security forces responsible for these actions."

In Kampala, Information minister and government spokesperson Judith Nabakooba last evening said it was difficult to respond to unspecified concerns. "We will wait, as we expect, for their communication through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We will sit [as Cabinet] and discuss the concerns and respond as government," she said.

Unspecified options

Mr Price had said unspecified options under consideration would target to hold accountable individuals "responsible for what we saw in the context of Uganda's election just as we continue to work with Uganda to pursue some of our mutual interests".

The Department of State leads America's foreign policy to advance US interests abroad and its public criticism and call for audit of Uganda's elections suggests the matter has gained currency and high-level attention in Joe Biden's administration.

Incumbent Yoweri Museveni won the January 14 poll with 60 per cent while runner-up Bobi Wine, who got 35 per cent of the valid votes, rejected the results as manufactured and called for an audit, a call which has gone nowhere.

It remained unclear how the US planned to make good its demand for independent inquiries into the election results, which Bobi challenged in court but is withdrawing prematurely citing biased judges.

Asked whether Washington had formally petitioned the Ugandan government, Mr Anthony Kujawa, the US embassy spokesperson in Kampala, said they are "deeply troubled by credible reports of election irregularities ... as well as security force violence during the pre-election period."

"We continue to voice our concerns and call for accountability with Ugandan authorities at the highest levels of government," he noted, using the diplomatic euphemism of "highest level" that denotes head of state or government.

Washington has not specified options that it is considering against specific Ugandan security officials, and it remained unclear how such action could affect military cooperation including the ongoing peace-keeping mission in Somalia, where Uganda is the biggest troop contributor, and counter-terrorism operations in the region.

In an interview last evening, Uganda Media Centre executive director Ofwono Opondo said America's demand to audit Uganda's polls is ironic considering that then President Donald Trump alleged that he was rigged out while his successor, Biden, accused his predecessor of inciting insurrection.

Supporters of Mr Trump stormed the US Capitol in January in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to stop certification of the results of the November 2020 vote.

"Americans should first address those issues before their government can ask for independent inquiry into Uganda's elections," Mr Opondo said.

He added: "[US Department of State spokesman Price] should remember that we (Ugandans) have interests, both domestic and foreign, which we must pursue, defend and protect. The interest of Uganda is supreme to Ugandans. We don't believe that the interests of Uganda and the US are mutually exclusive, although the US sometimes is overbearing."

Mr Price on Tuesday said Uganda continues to play an "important role when it comes to some of our interests in the region", citing AMISOM.

"But, again, this goes to the point that ... we can pursue our interests and pursue our values at the same time," he added in response to the demands for election audit and punishment for transgressions.

REACTIONS

"We strongly urge [for] independent, credible, impartial and thorough investigations into [election irregularities]. We will consider a range of targeted options to hold accountable those members of the security forces responsible for these actions," Ned Price, US Department of State spokesperson

"We (Ugandans) have interests, both domestic and foreign, which we must pursue, defend and protect. The interest of Uganda is supreme to Ugandans," Ofwono Opondo, Uganda Media Centre executive director

"The United States is deeply troubled by credible reports of election irregularities during the January 14 polls, as well as security force violence during the pre-election period," Anthony Kujawa, US Kampala Embassy spokesperson

"We will wait, as we expect, for their communication through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We will sit [as Cabinet] and discuss the concerns and respond as government," Judith Nabakooba, Information minister

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